Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Next English Coronation: Ecumenical and Diverse?

As The Telegraph proclaims: it will be "A coronation for OUR Times":

There are some things you just don’t talk about, and the crowning of the next king is one of them. It would be “impolite” to start planning a coronation while the existing monarch is still alive, I was told last week by one of those who may be involved when the time comes. Quite right, too. As the Queen prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her Coronation on June 2 1953, it is to be hoped that she will go on and on. But that’s not to say that those concerned have neglected to think about what might come next. . . .

[Talking about the next coronation, to Henry VIII especially, could be thought of as the same thing as talking about the death of the monarch--sometimes in bad taste, sometimes liable to get your head separated from the rest of your body.]

The Sunday Telegraph has learned of a major shift in attitude within the leadership of the Church, towards allowing the representatives of other faiths to participate in a coronation service for the first time. This would be a dramatic break with tradition, as the coronation has been an exclusively Christian event for 1,000 years. In the past, any such move was strongly opposed by the Church of England. There is now, however, a recognition that the next coronation will have to reflect the spiritual diversity of modern Britain in some way.

The ethnic and cultural make-up of the country has changed greatly since 1953, when the ceremony reflected the long-established notion of Britain as a nation under one God. Sixty years later, Her Majesty reigns over a nation with many gods. There are still 33 million people who call themselves Christian (including Roman Catholics, who were not represented in the service in 1953). There are also 2.7 million Muslims, 817,000 Hindus and 263,000 Jews, and many others. . . .

Dr Robert Morris of the Constitution Unit at University College, London said that:

“Essentially, the last Coronation was a straight rerun of what had gone before, over the centuries. It was an Anglican Christian service. No Popery allowed, etc. The only alteration was that the Moderator of the Church of Scotland was allowed to come on and present a Bible to the Queen. That was a big thing in 1953. The Archbishop of Canterbury refused to give space to any of the other churches, let alone faiths. So they have a long way to go.”

Some of the language of the ceremony is laid down in law, such as the Coronation Oath Act of 1689, which says the monarch must swear to uphold the Protestant faith. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website says “the form and order of the service are ancient in origin but not immutable”.

The new Archbishop, the Most Rev Justin Welby, showed his willingness to tweak tradition in March when he changed his enthronement at Canterbury Cathedral into an inauguration without many people noticing. He will write the service when the time comes, but not without help.

The recent changes in the Succession, allowing those in line to marry a Catholic, and the first born female to succeed ahead of any brothers born later, were earth-shattering enough to the Anglican establishment. These proposals are producing Lisbon-like earthquakes:

There will be, says Dr Morris, a case for simplifying the Christian ceremony and supplementing it with other events. “There is a question of how the monarch should be seen to relate ceremonially, not only to his Anglican subjects, but also the rest of the population. There is a case for considering a series of essentially secular ceremonies, in which the monarch shows himself for acclamation to the rest of the population.”

It would also put great strain on the ties between Church, State and Crown, some of which have snapped or are snapping already. To the Church, however, there is another precious dimension to the coronation. One senior figure described it to me this week as an ordination, an act of setting someone apart for a sacred purpose.

Unusually, perhaps, in terms of her predecessors, Queen Elizabeth came to her Coronation as a woman of deep personal faith. That continues to be the case, although she is certainly not uncomfortable in multi-faith services. It was Her Majesty who reminded the Church of England in a remarkable speech last year that it is not just there to serve Christians.

“Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions,” she said. “Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”
(Image source: wikipedia commons.)

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